Modi govt vs social media: Twitter, ministry trade terse words


The tussle between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and social media giants worsened May 27 with Twitter saying it feared for free speech as well as its employees in the country and the government hitting back with terse words.

Twitter on Thursday also requested India’s information-technology ministry to consider a minimum of three-month extension in order for the company to implement the new intermediary guidelines for social media in India.

A day before, Facebook-owned WhatsApp sued the Indian government over the new rules for social media platforms.

Twitter, which witnessed a police raid on its offices in Delhi and Gurugram early this week related to an alleged controversy, said that it continues to accept grievances from users and law enforcement via its existing grievance redress channel available under the new IT Rules.

Stressing that it will strive to comply with applicable law in India, a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement that right now, “we are concerned by recent events regarding our employees in India and the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve.

“We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service, as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules,” Twitter said in its first reaction after the police raids on its offices.

On Monday, Delhi Police visited Twitter India’s local offices in the National Capital Region after Twitter had marked one of the tweets of BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra as “manipulated media”.

Twitter said in its fresh statement that it is particularly concerned about the requirement to make an individual (the compliance officer) criminally liable for content on the platform, the requirements for proactive monitoring, and the blanket authority to seek information about customers.

“This represents dangerous overreach that is inconsistent with open, democratic principles,” the company argued.

The government hit back in hours, accusing Twitter of trying to dictate terms and undermine India’s legal system.

India has a glorious tradition of free speech and democratic practices dating back centuries,” the ministry statement said, adding that “protecting free speech in India is not the prerogative of a private, for-profit and foreign entity like Twitter, but it is the commitment of the world’s largest democracy.

“Twitter’s statement is an attempt to dictate its terms to the world’s largest democracy. Through its actions and deliberate defiance, Twitter seeks to undermine India’s legal system,” the ministry statement said.

“It is time Twitter disabuses itself of this grandiosity and comply with the laws of India,” the statement said, adding that representatives of social media companies, including Twitter, “are and will always remain safe in India and there is no threat to their personal safety and security.”